Pankaj Sharma has the air of a hunted man. In Hauz Khas Village, one of Delhi’s trendiest night spots, the 38-year-old businessman-turned-environmental activist is persona non grata after his actions led to the closure of dozens of restaurants here at the weekend.
On Monday, after one of the quietest weekends for some time in the lake-side area of ancient tombs, boutique shops and upmarket eateries, Mr. Sharma ventured through the lanes of the village in an auto rickshaw, without stopping to show his face.
“I know people are angry, but for a short term,” Mr. Sharma told India Real Time, during his first visit to the area in four months. “In the longer term they’ll realize the importance of it. It’s like a doctor gives you an injection, so you get pain from that injection but if you don’t get that injection you won’t get healthy,” he added.
This shock treatment, Mr. Sharma says, is just what’s needed for the neighborhood, which was once a sleepy area of artisans and artists and is now frequented by Delhi’s well-heeled on nights out in the area. At weekends in particular it is overrun by diners heading to the scores of restaurants, which, according to a judge ruling on the matter Friday, have mushroomed in recent years causing a nuisance to residents.
Mr. Sharma, from Delhi worked for 13 years in business management at an industrial technology trade association, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, before quitting four years ago to follow his passion for environmental and heritage preservation. He founded a nonprofit, the Centre for Transforming India, which focuses on the implementation of government policies in these areas and was initially based in Hauz Khas village.
They moved out in 2012 because of the rising popularity of the area for evening entertainment, Mr. Sharma said.
“It used to be such beautiful place. But then suddenly you could find restaurants opening in every nook and cranny, which destroyed the flavor. And in fact, most of these restaurants were opening illegally,” Mr. Sharma said. “I am not anti-establishment, I am not anti-business. I am 100% for businesses, but for sustainable businesses.”
So he moved his office, now with a staff of seven, to another part of South Delhi and started asking restaurant owners questions. After a few months of surveying the urban village, he found several planning and development laws were being ignored and that residents were also aggravated by the growing popularity of the area. He took the grievances, in his nonprofit’s first legal case, to the courts in July.
Friday’s ruling gave him the result he was looking for.
The National Green Tribunal, a government judicial system that rules on issues of environmental law, ordered that all restaurants operating without the necessary pollution permits close. Thirty-four were ordered to shut, specifically for failing to obtain emissions permits or build wastewater treatment systems, a state law for all restaurants with a seating capacity of over 36.
Mr. Sharma has raised several other issues about their operations that could lead to further closures.
On Monday, restaurants in the area, such as Out of the Box and Raasta, had signs outside stating they would be closed until Tuesday. The tribunal had ordered them to keep their doors shut to diners until the next hearing, which is set for Tuesday.
Mr. Sharma said he hopes the Hauz Khas issue will set a state or national precedent in cases of rampant urbanization.
His organization has also started to raise questions about potentially illegal encroachments around the 16th- century shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, in another part of Delhi, which they plan to make their next big campaign.
“We’ll see what happens after we survey,” Mr. Sharma said.